How eight beloved stand-up comics got their starts

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Oswalt, 55, began his stand-up career on July 18, 1988, at a Washington comedy club. The 19-year-old, who had just finished his freshman year at William & Mary, prepared for his stage debut by watching lots of other open mic performers. As for material, he relied on instinct. “I just kind of wrote what I thought was a funny set and then went up and completely ate it,” said Patton.

What I realized years later was the importance of my first open mic wasn’t to go up and get laughs,” said the comedian and actor, who recently starred in Apple TV Plus’s “Manhunt.” “It was to go up and get over the fear and overthinking about going onstage.”

That first stand-up experience is a blank, Oswalt says now, he only remembers that the audience was not overwhelmed. Nonetheless, his time onstage sparked an epiphany. “I got no positive feedback from going onstage, but I look back at a thing that gave me no positive feedback [and] I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he said.

What did he take away from it? “This is probably what I should do with my life.”

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